Smoking is killing them, and all I can do is watch?

A burning cigarette (Image credit: Pexels)

That day, I entered my room in search of my pair of glasses. It was kept on the table, which is around one metre away from the door. Beside the table, there is a bed. On that bed was my mother. Sitting quite firmly with her spectacles on, she was reading the day’s newspaper. In front of her, my brother was smiling at his smartphone and running his fingers with a distinct urgency. Without peeking at his mobile screen, I—in an attempt to take a jibe at him — questioned, “Mother, didn’t he tell you that he had stopped playing games on his phone?”

Putting her newspaper aside, she started telling us a tale of her childhood. I immediately took a seat beside her and began listening to what I knew would be an extremely exciting story. She pushed the throttle,

“In our childhood, there was a famous advertise that would appear quite frequently on the television. It was an advertisement for spreading general awareness. Smoking kills: that was the main motto of the ad.

“There was a person in that ad who, despite being interested in quitting the bad habit, would smoke a lot. He would smoke a dozen of cigarettes throughout the day. But when asked as to why he would smoke that much, the protagonist of the respective ad would always be ready with an excuse.

“After finishing his breakfast, he would smoke. But when reminded of his resolution to quit smoking once and for all, he would say, ‘there is no harm in one, let me begin the day with just this one.’ After finishing his lunch, he would smoke again, and this time, his excuse would be, ‘after having the lunch, smoking becomes a necessity. It revitalizes my whole body.’ After running a few miles, he would smoke and opine, ‘running takes a toll on my body, let me charge it with a few puffs!’

“Having made these excuses, he would smoke a huge chunk of cigarettes throughout the day. Your brother and the person belong to a special class of people who show an interest in dropping a bad habit but end up giving away excuses to satisfy their inner selves.” Having heard her story, my brother smirked in what, I believe, was an attempt to reflect his disgust in a friendly manner.

If anything, I understood that my mother, like me, would spend hours and hours in front of the television screen during her girlhood. Although my mother made a decent endeavour to strike a similarity between the person from her childhood ad and my brother, her recollection reminded me of a group of people that is very dear to me.

The said group consists of my childhood friends. We hail from the same primary school, and we went to the same school to complete our secondary and higher secondary education. I don’t usually go on trips or watch movies in theatres. It is not that I don’t prefer doing excursions, but it is always an impetus I try to find before making a concrete judgment in regard to touring. But, interestingly, it is with my school friends that I last went on a trip and went to watch a movie in “Spider-man: No Way Home”. And I am proud that I went. Each time, I had great fun. I value my companions a lot.

Listening to my mother’s story reminded me of how they are blindly marching towards a future where there is no fun, no joy, no pleasure. There await only darkness and smokes of the anticipation that everything would be alright one day. Before moving further, I would like to share two of my unfortunate experiences with die-hard smokers.

The first story revolves around my maternal uncle. He is past the age of 50 years. Since I was born in 2000, I have never seen his pockets sans cigarettes. When I was a kid, he would smoke day and night. He was a fit and healthy gentleman back then. I never asked him why he would smoke so much, as I was unsure of how he would react to my interest.

When I would visit my nanny's place, the filthy smell of burnt tobacco would make me feel as if someone was continuously smashing my brain with a torturous hammer. Without saying a word, I would leave the room where all the smoking used to take place. I don’t know how he picked up the habit of smoking in the first place, but the tobacco-mixed scent coming out of his mouth would make me realise that the burnt lips and black teeth had paid the price of slavery for a pretty long time.

Cigarettes are an easy-to-get commodity here in India. Almost around every two-metre, there is a shop selling cigarettes, because people across this nation holds a different sort of admiration for these tiny pipes. I have seen a norm developing among smokers over the years. It is extensively believed that cigarettes are for rich people. So, what would poor smoke? We have got a cheap substitute for Cigarettes in bidi. To find an elaborate definition, I took the help of Wikipedia, which states,

“A beedi is a thin cigarette or mini-cigar filled with tobacco flake and commonly wrapped in a tendu or Piliostigma racemosum leaf tied with a string or adhesive at one end.”

Over the last few years, I have witnessed my maternal uncle switching his mode of consuming tobacco. He is now more of a bidi user. On special occasions, however, he keeps a pack of cigarettes with him. The last time I visited him, almost nothing changed when it comes to his habits of consuming tobacco; only a few diseases had crept into his human body. As opposed to those early days, he now coughs repeatedly. In addition to that, there also remains a host of other ailments. Nowadays, he seems to be much older than a normal person of his age. Dark spots under his eyes and the catastrophic state of his lips and teeth embody his well-being. While I am not sure that all of these has happened to him as a result of day-to-day smoking, I know that quitting smoking a lot earlier would not aggravate the present situation.

My second real-life experience includes the husband of my elder aunt’s sister. He and my maternal uncle are of the same age. Now retired, the former was once the manager of a reputed public sector bank. First of all, I don’t know how he got into the habit of smoking so many cigarettes each day. As far as I am concerned, his routine of smoking a large number of cigarettes somewhat intensified due to the omnipresent onus of handling a recognised bank, as you all know that there prevails a traditional belief in society that smoking relieves stress. But that is nothing but a myth, how? We will discuss it later. For now, let’s focus on this person.

So, he continued smoking around a dozen of cigarettes per day and subsequently got diagnosed with severe heart disease a few months ago. Now, he is completely prohibited from any kind of smoking. He can’t even blow up a balloon, portraying the severity of the disease. But even after complying with so many protocols, he has been prescribed a series of medications to keep his health safe. Just like my maternal uncle, this man has also faced the evil side of frequent coughing. But unlike my maternal uncle, this man has seen it all, even the taces of blood within his coughed saliva.

These two real-life experiences and several others have made me aware that smoking cannot make life easy, enjoyable. Perhaps, in search of short-term gain, hundreds and thousands of smokers are ready to take the road of long-term pain. But even that pain would be immensely immeasurable and tragic. You don’t deserve that pain and suffering.

How do they get it?

Just like the myth that smoking helps a person overcome anxiety, there remains another legend in concurrent society that makes people believe that smoking looks cool. In reality, it is not, of course. Different people have different opinions, but I believe that there cannot be anything “cool” in destroying your health. So, how have people come to understand that smoking is “cool”? I would like to give a significant percentage of the credit to our flamboyant cinema industry. In a bid to add some flashiness, movie makers now and then put a dramatic scene where you would see a hero or a villain smoking a cigar and producing different sort of designs, from circle to even dinosaurs, to make the smoke coming out of their mouth look extremely charming and captivating.

In some movies, there are even exaggerated scenes of a hero or a villain throwing out the butt of a cigarette. The way a hero or a villain throws away the butt itches a deep mark on a juvenile mind, giving a rise to the urge that would make him try smoking once in the future.

While some get inspired by these notable smoking practices from a movie, some understand the methodology of smoking after spending time with other smokers. Peer pressure is a concept that everyone understands today. But I have an example for those who don’t have adequate knowledge on this matter.

In the mid-1900s, there was a Poland-born psychologist in Solomon Asch, who ran an experiment in his lab with a group of people. In this experiment, two kinds of people took part. One kind represented the neutrals, who were just volunteers. The other ones were also participants, but they were not volunteers. They were actors. Asch hired them but didn’t inform the volunteers about the actors’ real identity. Two groups of people got mixed in one room, with volunteers not knowing the presence of actors with them. Asch picked a volunteer and a few actors to run the test for the first time.

On a display, a picture of three lines was shown to everyone. Everyone agreed that the lines were of the same length as it obviously was. In the second attempt, again a picture of three lines was shown to everyone, and everyone nodded that there was no difference in the length of the straight lines. After doing the same thing on a trot a few times, Asch tried something different, intentionally showing a picture of three straight lines that were unequal in length.

Asch asked whether those three lines were of the same length or not. Those hired actors shook their heads upside down, giving their consent that the lines were the same. Despite showing some signs of hesitancy at first, the volunteer also unwillingly agreed on the idea that those three lines were of the same length. The same experiment was conducted with several other volunteers and actors. And in most cases, the volunteers ended up agreeing that the lines were the same in length, although the lengths of lines were different in reality. This is a real example of peer pressure as the volunteers felt the pressure of other candidates in the room. And under pressure, they chose to go with the majority, even though they internally knew the answer was wrong.

Just remember the time when you wanted to learn how to ride a cycle because everyone around you know how to ride a cycle. Just everyone is buying a smartphone means you also need to buy one. Everyone is choosing option B in the answer sheet, and now, you have to choose the same option even if you would prefer something else on your own.

Peer pressure has got a new mate these days — FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). If your friends are applying for the Science stream, you should also apply for that. If your friends are pursuing Engineering, you should also do that, why? Because you possess a fear of missing out on the opportunities that your friends would receive one day.

Just like those aforementioned examples, when a couple of smokers regularly meet with a person who doesn’t smoke, the person starts believing that he is missing out on the flamboyant experience that his friends are enjoying. The person also starts aspiring to relish the ecstasy of his smoker friends. And this is how a cycle of smokers developing new smokers runs seamlessly.

In a lesser number of cases, a person starts smoking out of the pressure he/she faces at his/her workplace or in studies or in a relationship. But the number of this case, as said before, is minimal.

How are they getting killed with each puff?

Smoking regularly summons severe consequences, and I think we all know that. From the scary image on the back of every cigarette packet to the statement that says, “smoking causes cancer”, there is no lack of evidence to showcase that smoking is bad. But yet, people smoke.

As per the data from 2019, 1.1 billion people (more than 100 crores) are addicted to smoking. The number has possibly gone up by now. There is even a report that suggests the number of smokers has risen drastically amid the pandemic period. Now, people smoke regularly despite knowing that it kills. People understand what will happen to them if they continue smoking, but they perhaps lack awareness as to how that particular harm will happen to them. And that’s why they ignore the warning printed on the back of a cigarette pack. Let’s clear some misconceptions today.

Smoking doesn’t release stress…

You might’ve heard from your relatives, friends, and colleagues that smoking helps them release stress. Well, that is a myth. In a report published by The New York Times, it is clearly stated that smoking regularly doesn’t help you decrease your stress level. But research proves that it could pose a completely opposite effect as smokers could face a high level of anxiety and tension in long run. As an avid smoker, you must know that you consume nicotine, which is a substance famous for creating an immediate sense of relaxation within the smoker’s mind and body.

When a smoker consumes nicotine, it makes the brain release the “feel-good” neurochemicals called endorphins and enkephalins, which brings out a feeling of relaxation within the human brain. To be concise, the calming mood just embodies a feeling of happiness at that very moment. When the feeling of calmness evaporates, you are back into reality and maybe even in a much darker situation. Smoking doesn’t release stress; it just gives rise to your feeling of ecstasy.

What are the diseases that you can catch from smoking?

I don't want to run along the same way with this question. We all know the diseases one can catch as a result of excessive smoking. But, just to drive our memory once again, we must remember the names. So, Cancer tops the list, with heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD) like emphysema and chronic bronchitis following the suit.

Other than those primary diseases, a smoker runs the risk of sustaining tuberculosis from continuous coughing, certain eye diseases, and problems of the immune system, including rheumatoid arthritis. These are the secondary cases, where smoking is not deemed to be the primary cause of the diseases, but it could play a significant part.

I don’t want to bring up the numbers as to how many people die every year due to smoking and cancer. We all have seen it and can regard it as depressing.

Apart from that, continuous smoking could endanger the life of your next generation. A study has found that regular smoking leads to a reduced number of sperms and a decline in their quality. It is also understood that excessive smoking might decrease the sperm’s ability to fertilize eggs.

A report from The Times of India claims that each cigarette that a smoker smokes reduces his/her life by around 12 minutes. The straightforward calculation says that smoking five cigarettes a day would reduce your life span by sixty minutes or one hour.

In this modern world, depression has emerged as a new issue. Failures in exams, relationships, jobs and at a domain where a person wishes to do well could lead to troubling thoughts and eventually give birth to depression.

[In case you are suffering from some mental health issues, here are some resources that can possibly help you: www.wannatalkaboutit.com]

A UK-based study has proven that “smokers are more likely than non-smokers to develop depression over time.”

While discussing nicotine, we saw how it brings an artificial feeling of calmness to the human brain, making the smokers believe that they are in a dreamworld of utmost tranquillity. In simple words, you are buying happiness through smoking. It’s not natural but forced.

You, being a smoker, are forcing your body to comply with the smoking norms. And thus, you are breaking the natural form of the body. In this manner, dispersion is bound to follow in future.

What are the financial ramifications that smoking brings?

I would like to say that you have just entered the most significant and important part of this whole piece. If anything, the question mentioned above should be the reason you would never pick up a cigarette or a bidi from the next day. So, let’s start from the basics.

Suppose, you are a regular smoker and are spending an amount of Rs 15 ($0.20) on your smoking habit on a daily basis. If that is so, then you, in a month, are spending Rs 450 (around $6) to satisfy your urge to smoke. After a year, the number goes up, and your total spending on smoking becomes Rs 5400 (around $72).

Now, suppose, you start smoking at the age of 20 and will continue smoking until you turn 70, you would end up spending a jaw-dropping amount of Rs 2.7 lakh (around $3621) by the age of 70 in a world where there is no inflation (rising of commodity prices) and no pressure of paying taxes on buying products. But as we don’t live in that dreamland, your smoking habit would cost you an overall amount of more than 3 lakh (around $4023).

After reading this, you would think that perhaps life insurance would make your life easier, and you would make a run towards an insurance company to get an insurance plan as soon as possible. But having reached the office, you would learn that your insurer would ask you some questions — one of which would be related to your smoking habit — before offering you a premium. They would want to know whether you smoke and consume alcohol.

Smokers and consumers of alcohol are considered risky clients in their book. They belong to the high-risk category. After saying that you are indeed a smoker, they, knowing that your health could get worse at any moment, would charge an outrageous sum of money in return for your life insurance. And if you choose to keep your smoking habit a secret in front of the insurer, your loved ones, despite you paying the full amount of premium, will end up getting no sum of money from the insurance company after your unfortunate demise.

Now, you can counter by saying that you are spending your own money on smoking. That’s completely alright. I am just doing the maths on your behalf. So, you are now paying to damage your health and then paying again a huge sum of money to patch the damage with life insurance, does it make any sense at all?

What are the ways to make a smoker quit smoking?

Now that you know the consequences of smoking and that smoking is gradually pushing you towards the periphery of life, you might be thinking of parting ways with your habit of lighting up.

There are substitutes available in the market. You might’ve already heard of nicotine-based chewing gums, e-cigarettes, and even nicotine patches. Some of you might’ve even tried, but it has come to no avail, yes?

First of all, the prices of these substitutes are higher than those of easy-to-get cigarettes. Then, there is a shortage of availability. You cannot get nicotine-based chewing gums, e-cigarettes, or nicotine patches in just any store. Who would consider doing so much hard work to replace a habit with another one? Mayhap no one.

You are finally interested in quitting smoking or getting rid of any sort of nicotine-based products, no? But you don’t know the natural process. To eliminate complexities, let’s keep it simple and just discuss two ways using which you could take a step towards a better way of living.

  1. Make your brain realise your intention to quit

You are now fully prepared and firm in your decision to quit smoking. But your cravings for cigarettes begin itching your brain as soon as you meet with a gang of smokers. Your neurotransmitter gets the message through neurons that you want to smoke, and you end up smoking a few.

Smoking is okay, for now. Your brain understands the need for smoking. With regular practices, you have made your brain understand that smoking is now a part of you. But what if you reverse the process? I mean to say that what if you try to quit smoking in the same way you used to make smoking a daily exercise in the first place.

Remember the day when you picked up a cigarette for the first time and put it on the cusp of your lips. You had just one. Then a few days later, you started smoking two. Then a few days later, you started doing three. And after a few weeks, you started smoking more at different times. It has been a slow but steady process of making your brain comply with the changes that come along with the habit of smoking, no? Of course, it is.

Now, let’s say you want to quit. How would you do it? Yes, you would do it by making a reversal of what you did to catch the habit at the beginning. Suppose, you, nowadays, smoke around five cigarettes a day. What if you start smoking four from tomorrow? Your brain would hardly sense any difference. After a few days, you can bring that number to three? Agin, your brain might think this is too low, but it would adapt to the change over time. After a few weeks, you could try coming down to two and a half. You could just throw away the rest. Again, your brain would barely notice. In the same manner, you could just be free from the shackles of your smoking habit one day. Yes, it would take time and effort, but it is a highly effective way to build a habit or eliminate the same from your list.

By applying the same trick, you could build a habit of waking up early in the morning. At first, you could start waking up at 7 A.M. After a few days, you could set the alarm at 6:50 A.M. Now that you are waking up at 6:50 A.M. daily, try setting up 6:30 on your alarm clock, and you could wake up at any time you would like by following the simple trick. You could add the same trick to instigate your gyming capacity and on several other grounds.

2. Eliminate the cues and cravings

In James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, the author mentioned how a task, when done regularly, becomes a habit. According to Clear, a task altogether goes through four stages to become a habit. As suggested in his book, these stages include cue, craving, response, and reward.

Cue is the idea of the task that one wishes to accomplish. Craving is the motivation that one needs to accomplish a task. Then comes the response, which is the task one does to satisfy one’s craving. And then, as a result of the response, the person gets a reward.

Here is a simple example: suppose, you want to build muscle (cue). To do so, you think of joining a gym (craving), you do gyming every day(response), and then, you get a muscular body after some time (reward).

Here is another one: you want to feel relaxed (cue), you pick up a cigarette (craving), you smoke (response), and then, you feel relaxed (reward). Why do you feel relaxed? we have already seen that.

In a study, it is shown how people could develop a craving from external cues. If you want to drink more water, just put a water bottle in a place where your eyes would notice. If you want to start reading more books after having dinner, just put a book at a place where your eyes would notice after you are finished with your dinner.

In the same way, if you want to eliminate a habit, you could just put away your cues and cravings. If you don’t want your smartphone to bother you while reading or doing some intense work, put the phone away in another room or inside a drawer. Human minds don’t want to do difficult jobs. And that’s why a person won’t consider visiting the other room just to check notifications on his/her phone yet and again.

How could you eliminate cues and cravings when it comes to smoking? There are different parts. In order to understand, you, at first, must know the cues that stimulate your craving for smoking.

It could be anything between you seeing the store from where you always buy the cigarettes to you listening to anything related to smoking from your friends and colleagues. If the former stands for your case, then you must ignore the store or perhaps the road, on which the store is located, to reach your destination. It helps.

If talking to friends about smoking instigate your craving for the habit, then you must tell them to stop discussing the topic. If offered a cigarette, you need to have the courage to say, “NO!” At the end of the day, it is only a pair of words — cue and craving — that lies between you and your will to quit smoking.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Jyotirmoy Halder

Jyotirmoy Halder

Hey, this is Jyotirmoy Halder, hoping to distract your thoughts and test your patience every Sunday here on “The Sunday Hazard”.